Two things come out strikingly clear from prime minister Narendra Modi’s fourth Independence Day speech that was delivered in his usual impromptu style. His invincibility as a political craftsman laying the basis for his next Lok Sabha elections cannot be missed out. Secondly, the report card presented to the country speaks volumes about delivering on promises made in 2014 Lok Sabha polls. Moreover, a shorter speech in 54 minutes without being triumphal made the event at the ramparts of Red Fort more tolerable especially on a humid sunny day. Unfortunately, the chasm between rhetoric, full of promises and actualisation of many of his plans on the ground is growing wider. While administrative reforms for making people’s lives easier have been unveiled with unceasing regularity, deep structural economic reform has taken a backseat. Populism has been at the vanguard of the PM’s action plan, which cannot be argued with for India resides in its villages. But his middle class vote bank, now a sizeable number awaits answers and roll outs. Their lives too need to be improved. And for those who thought that some big ticket announcement in his speech would come, there was the usual disappointment.
His promise to unveil a New India with an own house for every family, clean drinking water and uninterrupted power supply by 2022 clearly hints at his bid for a second term. Hassle free eco-system with doubling of incomes for farmers also forms part of his agenda for the next five years.
Trappings of a political campaign were also evident from promise of delivering a strong and energetic India in the next five years after having laid the new path for governance. While his promise of new India was just a teaser, the actual campaign for the 2019 general election may unfold a full plan for his second term. If his Independence Day address was any indication, BJP and NDA will continue their heavy dependence on technology platforms for taking governance to peoples’ doorstep.
Modi gave enough hints that his campaign against corruption, black money and laundering funds across borders will continue into his next term. Having won his first term on this very promise, he would like to continue this theme for the next five years as well.
In the relationship between Centre and states, the PM moved from cooperative federalism to competitive cooperative federalism, which hints at maturing of the structural change and inducing competition among states in achieving economic prosperity and development.
Opposition parties may have sleepless nights given that his development and economic focus would continue to be focus in the eastern region, including Odisha, West Bengal, Bihar, Assam and North Eastern states. In effect, parties like Trinamool Congress, Biju Janata Dal and four non-NDA parties in the North East have been put on notice through his thrust that was hitherto made when Pranab Mukherjee was finance minister for a couple of years under UPA-II.
While one of the glaring omission could be the stand off with China at the Dokolam tri-junction, Pakistan was completely ignored unlike in his past three speeches. But, on Kashmir, the carrot and stick policy seems to be central in his scheme of things. Zero-tolerance towards subversive elements and terrorists coupled with embracing the nationalist progressive Muslims seems to be the way forward. For the first time, Modi has given out an official figure of Rs 1.25 lakh crore in black money confiscated as a direct fallout of demonetising high value currency. Yet another Rs 1.75 crore cash deposits were put on scanner and additional Rs 2 crore cash with people has come into the system confirming FC’s Tuesday story, which comes from a Mint Street memo. While he attributed doubling of tax returns to 56 lakh assessees, courtesy demonetisation, he did not come out in public about the additional revenue accrued from these tax assesses.
Through identification of three lakh shell companies, 400 companies operating from one single address, Rs 800 crore recovery from benami properties in a few weeks, Modi has pointed to his unfinished agenda against black money and parallel cash economy. Again, if one were to look at the Indonesian domestic and overseas tax amnesty scheme launched more or less at the same time, India may well have missed a trick or two. All told close to $330 billion has already come in, even as we are gloating over our tax hauls.
Modi depended heavily on statistics to present his report card — from providing electricity to 14,000 villages, opening 29 crore bank accounts, two crore new LPG connections, 9 crore soil health cards, eight crore small loans for small businesses, doubling speed to lay roads and railway tracks, 94-farmer centric projects, to name but a few.
His singular achievement of providing graft free stable governance cannot be undermined or ignored.